Remembering Colten Boushie: We must run for office, get elected, and then write the law


February 9, 2018, is a date too many First Nation members remember far too well. It is the day a jury rendered their not-guilty verdict for Gerald Stanley on the charge of second-degree murder. Stanley shot and killed Red Pheasant Cree man Colten Boushie in August 2016.

As noted by CBC, “Indigenous people who were part of the jury pool were peremptorily challenged by the defence and none was selected to sit on the jury.” The not-guilty verdict deepened the social and political wedge that was long ago lodged between non-Indigenous Canadians and First Nations by a government whose policies were intentionally designed to destroy Indigenous cultures, languages, and ways of life. The verdict exacerbated racial tensions and fanned the flames of fear between Whites and Indigenous.

Using history as a guide, the not-guilty verdict should have come as neither a shock nor a surprise. Canadian First Nations’ only hope for a guilty verdict was in hope itself, not history. Canadian Indigenous are relegated to second-class citizenship in a nation that takes pride in its collective decency as a people when compared to other nations. We must use this sense of pride to our advantage. Our goal must be Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace and we must never become what it is we despise in our pursuit of these Rights.

The path to these ends means working within the system to change the system. If laws are needed, then we must run for office, get elected, and then write the law. As non-elected, we must lobby and engage non-Indigenous lawmakers with the aim of turning them away from their political indifference and turning them into a political partner. These things need to happen at the city, province, and national level.

As noted by CBC, the jury could identify with Gerald Stanley. They didn’t identify with the young people of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation so they feared them. Our government seems not to identify with us as a people, so let’s become more a part of the government since we already identify with ourselves and show them there is no reason to fear. It’s time for a political plan and peaceful political action that yield results.

The best way to honour the life and never forget the tragic and unnecessary death of Red Pheasant Cree Colten Boushie is to never stop working toward positive social change.

“I get the peace I didn’t have as a kid by providing it to these kids”

Eric Schweig is a Canadian actor of mixed Inuvialuk, Chippewa-Dene and German heritage. He opens up about the joys and challenges of being a new foster caregiver to two siblings. As a former foster child himself, he knows all too well the obstacles that youth can face when growing up in care.

“I was the oldest of seven children who were all adopted out,” explains Eric. “I ended up being a street kid myself for a long time. Most of my friends were foster kids who were always running from their group home and situations. We were all just out there on the streets together.”

Eric’s journey is a testament of resilience. He overcame his difficult childhood and a struggle with alcohol abuse to eventually become a successful actor starring in the Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Big Eden (2000). He is also an artist specializing in carvings and an advocate for Indigenous issues including adoption, the foster care system, addictions and suicide.

He spent a number of years working at Native Health in Vancouver with the homeless. In 2017, a friend challenged him to take his advocacy for youth a step further. “He said: ‘Eric, you’re always looking after people—why don’t you raise the bar and consider fostering?’” The conversation was a spark that eventually led Eric to partner with Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society to foster two siblings.

Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society provides holistic services to urban Indigenous children and families in the Vancouver. Their restorative service model strives to connect Indigenous children to their culture by training foster caregivers and providing opportunities to incorporate cultural practices into caregiving.

When asked about the transition to fostering, Eric laughs. “I went from 30 years of bachelorhood to Mr. Mom over here! Everything changed overnight. You have to learn to compromise pretty quickly. I went from only having to consider myself for every decision to centring everything on my foster kids. It was a real 180.”

The rewards are well worth the effort, says Eric. “Sometimes people ask me if it’s hard being a single Dad. My response is: my childhood was hard. Being on the streets was hard. This is easy.” Being able to provide a home for youth in care is a kind of full-circle catharsis for Eric. “I know what it’s like to be out there without support, and it’s an awful feeling. The peace I didn’t have when I was a kid—I get it vicariously through these kids being at peace here. It’s a good feeling.”

Learn about foster caregiving at Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS). Caregivers are needed and provided with training, support and the tools for success in joining in our “Circle of Caring”. Information sessions are held on the first Tuesday of each month at 3284 E. Broadway, Vancouver.

Passage of UN Declaration implementation bill should be non-partisan no-brainer

In 2010, former prime minister Stephen Harper publicly reversed his government’s opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In a formal “statement of support,” the Harper government said that it had listened to Indigenous leaders in Canada and “learned from the experience of other countries” and was now “confident” that Canada could move ahead with implementation of the Declaration “in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework.”

So why wouldn’t Conservative Members of Parliament and Senators support legislation intended to finally move ahead with the work of implementing the Declaration in Canada?

Bill C-262 is the private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Romeo Saganash. Passage of C-262 would create a legal framework requiring the federal government to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on the measures needed to bring Canadian law and policy into line with the minimum global standards set out in the Declaration. 

Critically, passage of the Bill C-262 would not suddenly change the legal status of the Declaration in Canada. Courts would continue to use the Declaration in the interpretation of Canada, just as they are already doing. However, passage of C-262 would establish an ongoing process of federal implementation that could not be easily abandoned by future governments.

The Bill enjoys widespread support. Out of 71 witnesses who appeared before a Parliamentary Committee examining the Bill last year, only one opposed adoption of C-262. 

Yet, when it came to a vote in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs refused to join the other parties in supporting the Bill. Video widely circulated online even showed Conservative MPs giving each other a high five after they voted against the Bill.

Now the Bill is before the Senate where its fate will be decided. The Bill is being sponsored in the Senate by independent Senator Murray Sinclair. The support of the former Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a powerful symbol that the Bill is an opportunity to advance reconciliation in Canada. Unfortunately, however, the limited time remaining to adopt C-262 before the current session ends means that even a small minority opposing the Bill could threaten its passage into law.  

A number of Conservative Senators have already gone on the record opposing the Bill. Their main concern seems to be that the UN Declaration could have far-reaching and unpredictable impacts in Canada. Some have already used procedural tactics to attempt to stall debate over the Bill.

These Senators seem to forget that the Declaration is not new – that it was developed over a period of more than twenty years and adopted by the United Nations more than a decade ago. They also seem to forget that a Conservative government studied the Declaration and came to the conclusion that it could and should support its implementation. And they are clearly ignoring the fact that the very purpose of the Bill is to ensure ongoing dialogue between government and Indigenous peoples over how the Declaration will be interpreted and applied in the future.

With an election looming, we are at a point where every issue on Parliament is seen as an opportunity to score points over political opponents. The cause of reconciliation, however, must not be dragged down by partisan politics. 

Bill C-262 is something that every federal party could and should support. In doing so, they have an opportunity to send a clear message to the public about the importance they place on reconciliation.

Dr. Abel Bosum is Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and Alex Neve is Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

Our Healing Ways

In memory of Alicja Rozanska, Josephine Mandamin and Dave Vasey

My brother Stephen Ogden spent about twenty five years trying to protect the Allison Aquifer in Tiny Township that runs through his farm –  above ground and below – nurturing everything in the surrounding area, from Georgian Bay all the way down to the St Lawrence river according to Mohawk Scientist Henry Lickers Akwesasne. I remember waking up as a child and going down to the river to swim with my dad around 6am in the early morning. We grew up in Ottawa, and the Rideau River that ran just behind our house was so clean, fresh and peaceful back then that the pike would be laying by the shore in the weeds sleeping. It was a time in my life that I will never forget. Everyone has memories of beauty and peace from their youth.

Things change every day. Now people come and go, opportunities happen and there is a lot of panic from the world as things fall apart and issues arise from injustice, locally and around the world. People in Ontario are voicing their concern over farmland being turned into urban sprawl, aquifers being exploited by foreign companies, wetlands being destroyed for subdivisions and shopping malls, and even old growth forests are cut down for profit seekers, and hate is growing from groups like the white supremacy. Man I would not want to be a teenager today with all this mismanagement and dysfunction. Everywhere you look there is madness..              

Every day the memories return to us when we are on the red road, our good times and hard times growing up, the strength and freedom that many of us had even though our parents were fighting and drinking. Many of us were not looked after or given enough food to feel good at school, while others had so much energy, yet we survived our youth, but broken, from family violence. Its funny when I was working in the prison system when someone wanted to join our class and ceremonies I would always ask the new residents, ‘did your parents drink when you were young or did you see your parents drinking alcohol when you were young and did you ever see them fighting about things and did you ever see them hit each other’? Then I would ask ‘did they ever hit you when you were young?’

I ran ceremonies in the prison system full time at one point, but I always have been going into the prison system to help our native brotherhood and all incarcerated men locked up. Now when I think of it, working inside the prison system helped me heal almost better than anything I ever had in my whole life except the fourteen years I spent with my partner/wife. Prison work comes second to my life with my wife Alicja who passed away 5 years ago. One thing I learned about violence is that a lot of times it happens when we were young, and we copy our parents and then we become parents. But with the transitions we all go through in our lifetime, on this sacred journey, our Great Creator has given us overwhelming gifts, not one person on this Sacred Mother Earth has no gifts. We all do have gifts from the Great Creator from the time we are born till our last breath when we cross onto the other side. But then again, there are many brothers and sisters who suffer from childhood abuse and never can get out of the trauma that keeps them broken all their lives; trauma which became addictions, and violence which eats so many native communities and cities, men and women, families and children, broken from childhood trauma, some homeless, some with mental illness which can be treated by healers, caregivers and native culture.

We are living in a social crisis and environmental disaster that unfolds on television, media and newspapers daily. The once clean, pure rivers, lakes and oceans are in need of healing just as the people who are lost and suffering from fantasy and pain. We need leaders who care for the people, leaders who are unselfish and who have compassion and will protect Mother Earth – the words from Chief Oren Lyons Onondaga Wolf Clan and Faithkeeper. Everything that is happening today does not need to be so negative, with so much life, energy and the freedom to be creative. Indigenous people have always been positive, creative, thoughtful and aware of natural life, natural laws and common sense to know what is right and wrong  and what will support life seven generations ahead. For all the humans that are healed and walking on this sacred red road or spiritual path, we need to keep the great mystery alive, we need to keep feeding the ones who are in need of truth and guidance. All the medicine is in our native culture, all the healing can come from the Red Road, The Good Path, The Sacred Journey – this is not fantasy, this is what our ancestors gave us, left us and fought for.

Thinking back to our ceremonies brings back the joy of watching our elders assembling around our sacred fire in the early mornings. Someone would walk around the camp at sunrise beating a sacred drum and singing to wake us up gently – this is our healing ways. It was a time of healing because we were all filling ourselves up with these sacred ceremonies on indigenous territory with indigenous values, and with traditional native culture being lived again through our elders and traditional native leaders. When I think back it was like a beautiful dream watching our elders in a giant circle with only earth and cedar arbor smoke and sacred fire – in their midst everyone was focused on prayer and thanksgiving to the gentle morning around us all, the feeling of oneness, the feeling of peace around us all in that sacred circle of life, and the true love of the universe and our Great Creator.

Our elders had so much kindness and love they filled our whole camp with harmony, respect, peace and healing. These ceremonies made us strong, and like Tom Porter would say, ‘our ceremonies energize us’. Every man is a brother on this Mother Earth and every woman is a sister on Turtle Island, the first law of this land is respect for everything that moves. Uncle Robertjohn and Joe Medicine Crow would say when we go into our Sacred Sweat Lodge we are one with the forces that give us life, earth, air, fire and water. In the lodge we are all one, so we heal and purify ourselves in this way. All these memories that our old elders gave us, and being on our indigenous territories with our indigenous values filled us all with the healing and oneness that created real humanness amongst each other to know how important it was to speak out for justice and Mother Earth, and to give Thanksgiving. Our traditional gatherings showed us how important it was for us to be together in harmony on the land with a sacred fire burning day and night. These memories help us to help others and to see what is right for our friends and families.

Mac McCloud says his mom and dad knew what was happening to Mother Earth, and that is why they never stopped fighting for native justice and our native rights; and Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando supported the struggle of the indigenous movement back in the sixties when The American Indian Movement started to speak out for North America Native Culture. Native elders always spoke out about the genocide that was happening on Turtle Island and the hardest part was the residential school era. The memories that native people have are not all the best, nothing came easy for us. Ann Jock  would tell me so many environmental stories of how clean it used to be on Akwasasnee. Now the Saint Lawrence is so dirty that you cannot eat the fish and the animals are contaminated too.

This article is dedicated to Josephine Mandamin, Sacred Water Walker, and my good friend David Vasey — both were peacekeepers and Mother Earth Protectors — and Alicja, my partner/wife who crossed over June 29, 2014.

The Peacemaker

Chief Oren Lyons and Chief Sid Hill Onondaga Nation at Six Nations Grand River Country. Photo by Danny Beaton


Story and photos by Danny Beaton,

Turtle Clan Mohawk

In memory of Alicja Rozanska

Thousands of years ago when the Haudenosaunee people were in conflict  warring among each other, the Five Nations were in turmoil in North Eastern Ontario Canada and the USA territory we call our self’ Woodland Indians/People of The Flint. Things had gotten so bad around Lake Huron the people had become cannibals eating flesh, killing, warring, creating fear and jealousy was rampant. Lucky for the Iroquois Nation a baby was born to a neighbouring tribe of the Wyandot Nation or Huron Nation near Lake Ontario. As the baby became a man The Great Creator had a dream that this Wyndot baby had incredible abilities and gifts.

Soon this baby became a man and had a vision to travel to neighbouring villages at the same time his Grandmother had a dream that the Creator wanted him to restore peace and harmony among all people especially the Five Nations.

This baby who was now a man was to become known as The Peacemaker. As The Peacemaker grew to become a man he realized he had a gift from the Great Creator and a message in his mind, body and spirit that he had to share with other people about peace, harmony, unity and righteousness. As The Peacemaker prepared himself to leave home and journey to spread his message he asked Great Creator to help him build a special canoe something that would show a beauty and power as he traveled to neighbouring villages. So the Creator helped the Peacemaker build his first canoe it was a beautiful canoe which he built of white stone and when this canoe was finished the Peacemaker set out on Lake Ontario and his people were in awe that this Stone Canoe would float as he paddled away from his homeland. The Peacemaker knew in his heart that what his Grandmother had dreamed was the same idea in his own mind that he had a gift and message to share with the world.          

 Not far from where the Peacemaker set off on his Stone Canoe journey to bring his message of peace, power, unity and righteousness to the people there is a man who was called Tadadaho who was working with his obsession of negative values and creating fear, war and murder among tribes.                                            

Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah Onondaga Nation. Photo by Danny Beaton

   Today there is another man who thinks he has a powerful message but not one of peace and unity or harmony- it is a rant, a need to bring hatred and racism to the people of Canada who are negative and want to build an idea of White Supremacy. His name is Gabriel Sohier Chaput who lives in Montreal and is highlighted in a Montreal Gazette investigation by journalists Shannon Carranco,  Jon Milton, Christopher Curtis are featured on Google explaining activities May 16, 2018 of The White Supremacy Organization and the young neo-nazi and neo-fascist Gabriel Chaput. Once I had a look at the information on this neo-nazi it made me think of all the struggles of our people and the black people of Africa- Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and our missing women.

My Spirit brother Mac McCloud says there is no place for hate or anger in native people because it will give us a heart attack. Nelson Mandela spent about thirty years in prison from his oppressors and learned in his own mind that he had to forgive the white oppressor and carry no anger or need for revenge.  While Nelson Mandela was imprisoned his colleague Bishop Tutu continued the struggle outside the prison walls for African people. The time of Apartheid was a time freedom and genocide because people were disappearing tortured and imprisoned for protesting and speaking about their human rights. Mothers and fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers were jailed indefinitely and mass murder and torture occurred amongst the African tribes yet when public outcry began the truth was hidden until the people brought evidence to the colonial court system and the world began to see and demand justice for the people of Africa. The African people themselves let their cry be heard and seen no other way out of dictatorship but to fight for justice and their children’s freedom from suffering. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu fought for their people and never carried anger, hate or revenge towards their oppressor.  

Mahatma Gandhi might have been the most beautiful leader the world has had taking his people out of the hands of colonialism and showing his people the power of unity, ceremony and peace. Mahatma said the only way to peace is by nonviolence and love. But it took India discipline of the good mind and ceremony to bring justice, freedom, unity, and independence back to India. These stories of equality freedom and peace were created by leaders who believed in the higher purpose of Human Beings and sacrifice with the power of the Universe God or Creator, very little was ever accomplished by atheism. Mandela, Tutu, Gandi, Crazy Horse, Fools Crow, Brant and Peacemaker were leaders who stood with the people mind, body and spirit always with the natural laws and natural life around them and the respect for Mother Earth that she the giver of all life on our sacred journey.

These leaders stood up for peace, power, equality, righteousness and respect for creation. Peacemaker set out on Lake Ontario and could see not far from the shores was a great lodge built in a huge circle as he drew near a woman stood behind a huge fire burning as if to greet Peacemaker. As the Peacemaker introduced himself and his mission to bring peace and harmony to all people the woman said adamantly that there was trouble everywhere among the Mohawk people there. The woman introduced herself as Jigonsaseh of the Great Cat Nation. This woman was both strong and gentle in nature she asked the Peacemaker to sleep in her lodge but that all visitors were asked to leave there weapons outside the lodge Peacemaker assured Jigonsaseh that he carried no weapon .The next day the Peacemaker walked to the nearby swamp where he was told the most dangerous warrior Tadadaho was living, Jigonsaseh was with him and other community elders. They began singing a song of peace to the Tadadaho and slowly he emerged out of the swamp and stood in front of the Peacemaker with his hair swimming with snakes, with his incredible power and hate. As the woman kept singing slowly the snakes began to fall from his head, he, Tadadaho began to look like a human being instead of a anger monster.           

As the Peacemaker began to comb Tadadahos hair, he spoke to Tadadaho of the peace harmony and the need to reason so to bring calmness to his people, then he spoke of Mother Earth and all the natural life and gifts that Great Creator had given Human Beings to be one with. Then the Peacemaker said to Tadadaho would you like to use your mind for peace and would you like to stand for The Great Law and govern your people with a Good Mind. The Peacemaker offered Tadadaho the position to be chief of all chiefs if he could use his energy for peace instead of murder! The Peacemaker then asked the Tadadaho to lead the unity of tribes to become The Haudenosaunee Iroquois Five Nations later to become Six Nations in unity for peace through the use of reason and harmony.    

Uncle Robertjohn of the Seneca, said the White Supremacy is everywhere in the USA and they are the rich and wealthy who refuse to share and take care of Mother Earth and the people, the White Supremacy are negative but the Good Mind is positive energy The Light of our Great Creator is everywhere on Mother Earth the same light from Brother Sun the same light that beats in our hearts. After Peacemaker finished reasoning with Tadadaho, he said “you will lead our 49 chiefs now and you will stand for the Great Law, you will lead the Haudenosaunee Iroquois Five Nations Confederacy and the chiefs will be made by our leader of our woman Jigonsaseh of the Great Cat Nation.”             

There is no place for The White Supremacy in Canada or USA today there are too many native and non-native woman disappearing, the country needs peaceful loving citizens to protect our women and children from hatred and predators.

The Remarkable Political Career of Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould

Jody Wilson-Raybould has been a woman of power in Canada. In 2015, she became the first Indigenous person to become Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, later transferring to the Minister of Veteran Affairs in 2019. She currently holds the position of the Liberal Member of Parliament for the riding of Vancouver Granville in Vancouver, B.C.

A member of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, she not only served in federal Canadian politics, but has held her ground in many important positions within her province and the Indigenous community. She was a Crown Prosecutor for B.C. and served as B.C.’s Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.

As Justice Minister, Wilson-Raybould was adamant that one of her focuses would be in reducing violence against women. In 2017, she held a forum discussing how Canada’s criminal justice system disproportionately affects sexual assault survivors.

“This crime has a gendered impact, and unfortunately myths and stereotypes continue to surface at all stages of the criminal justice system,” she said at an event in Quebec. In her role as Justice Minister, she promised the the government would be “unwavering” in committing to giving victims the justice they deserve.

Back in 2015, she defied the Conservative government and promised to review Harper’s negative laws on sex work, whose new legislation made it illegal to purchase sex work. Testimonies from sex workers strongly urged this legislation not to pass, as it endangered those working and pushed them further into dangerous situations.

A strong contrast to the presiding government, Wilson-Raybould also promised to sit down and listen to sex workers and those impacted by the regulations.

She also fought for gender rights across the spectrum and was an open supporter of Bill C-16, which later passed in June 2017. The bill gave protections to transgender and gender diverse Canadians, making it illegal for employers to discriminate based on gender identity or expression.

“In Canada, we must celebrate inclusion and diversity, and all Canadians should feel safe to be themselves,” she said in a statement. “Trans and gender diverse person must be granted equal status in Canadian society.”

After the launch of the Canadian government’s inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016, Wilson-Raybould spoke to the importance of getting to the root causes of the national crisis. She spoke out against how colonization has negatively affected the high rates of violence perpetrated against Indigenous women.

She stressed that it was important to unpack “the colonial legacy, looking at communities on reserve and off reserve, looking at institutions … and understanding the realities, the truths, that will be expressed through the living experiences of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

The Complicated History of Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Councils

Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Douglas Sanderson | University of Toronto Faculty of Law

The recent internal struggles between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and elected council has many wondering: what powers rest with whom?

The Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, and within those, 13 houses. The five hereditary chiefs representing the clans are all opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through their territory, while the elected council gave their go-ahead.

Elected chiefs and council generally hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure. Traditional chiefs oversee the territories and hold ceremonial and historical importance to First Nations.

Electoral systems are a result of the section 74 of the Indian Act, imposed upon First Nations by Canada. It was designed to eradicate the hereditary system and create something more recognizable for the western government.

Gina Starblanket, who is Cree and Saulteaux and a member of the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan, is an assistant professor in Indigenous Politics at the University of Calgary.  

She says that hereditary chiefs hold a symbolic role as well as a practical one. She acknowledges that it becomes particularly complicated when the question arises of who represents the nation’s voice in external relations, as in the Wet’suwet’en case.

“Hereditary chiefs are often recognized as traditional knowledge keepers, and in some contexts are recognized as having greater authority and rights relative to things like traditional territory or cultural knowledge and tradition,” she says. “But again, this varies from community to community and is also contested within communities.”

When it comes to where the authority lies, the answer is complex. The pipeline has just magnified the continual question of who controls what.

In a media release from the Wet’sewet’en, Chief Na’moks emphasized their rights to protection of their lands.

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have maintained their use and occupancy of their lands and hereditary governance system for thousands of years. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are the Title Holders and maintain authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands,” it said.

Chief Kloum Kuhn said the hereditary chiefs will never support the Coastal GasLink project.

“Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en, Wet’suwet’en rule of law, all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals and given no authority to Coastal Gaslink/TransCanada to do work on Wet’suwet’en lands,” he said.


Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii), a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, is a professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto.

He says the answer is more an amalgamation of the hereditary and the elected systems, especially when it comes to working with those outside the community.

“I think what we need to do is find a way to bring these two things together, so that you just have a decision making body,” Sanderson says. “The problem is created because outsiders don’t understand our communities. They’ve never been there, they don’t know how to operate.”

He says it’s integral that companies like the Coastal GasLink pipeline know the communities they’re working with, and that the confrontation should have been obvious if they had met with the Wet’suwet’en.

“They obviously didn’t spend any time there,” Sanderson says. “So they shouldn’t be surprised that this is unraveling in the way that it is.”


The proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline will run through 20 First Nations’ territories and the company received approval from all of them, although they sought assent only from elected officials. Some hereditary leaders also gave the thumbs up, but ultimately the go-ahead came from signed agreements with elected officials.

The reactions were mixed, but public opinion seemed to strongly sway toward supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Protests and rallies were held across Canada. Celebrities and musicians across North America voiced their support. Hereditary chiefs and elected council members from other bands wrote letters of encouragement.

Starblanket says this example of the clash between elected and hereditary leadership illustrates the problematic nature of electoral process.

“In many instances where those electoral systems were imposed, that was in an assimilatory process that was intended to undermine traditional leadership,” she says. “It also allowed for the imposition of patriarchal processes because it denied women’s jurisdiction and participation in selecting leaders.”

She emphasizes that she is from the prairie communities and doesn’t want to speak on behalf of the coastal communities.

“These electoral processes were imposed on all of us,” Starblanket says. “But also traditionally, they looked very different.”

Gordon Christie agrees on the fluctuations within Indigenous groups. He’s Inuvialuit and a professor at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, who studies Aboriginal rights.

“It can be variable, depending on the community or nation,” Christie says. “You’re talking about many First Nations communities that have resisted the imposition of band councils since day one, and they continue to today. Others resisted in the early stages, but then became comfortable with the band council system.”

He says there are First Nations that are comfortable with the band council system because that’s what they have known for generations.

“You’ve got a whole range of different histories. You have to go to each nation and find out what their story is,” he says.


Christie say the 1920s were a turning point for First Nations communities in Canada, when the country put its foot down, making it illegal to litigate and shut down a lot of legal outlets for Indigenous communities.

“That was a time of strong resistance,” Christie says. “Canada’s response was to get more harsh in its position, and in some communities, it moved in and physically removed the old hereditary system and put in place the band council system.”

For now, he agrees with the hereditary chiefs.

“For the Wet’suwet’en, you have the houses and the clans,” he says. “It makes complete sense to say that they have legal authority over their house territories.”


Another Side of the Native Oil Activism Story

Everyone’s heard of Native protesters blocking pipelines to protect Mother Earth, but what about Natives having a stake in the oil industry? Native chiefs and representatives gathered at the Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Grey Eagle Casino to discuss the question before an audience of government officials, bankers, and oil executives at the Indigenous Energy Summit.

Stephan Buffalo is an organizer of the January 15 and 16 event who has had comments directed toward him on social media characterizing Native leaders cooperating with Big Oil and the money it brings in as, “greedy” and “sell outs.” Native proponents of cooperation argue that being a part of the business and industrial infrastructure of the Canadian economy should be reason for unity among First Nations across Turtle Island.

The oil sands are the third largest oil deposit in the world, and the existing pipeline has been in operation for 65 years. Passenger vehicles, semi-transport, trains, aircraft, and the economy are dependent upon oil, and there is no change coming in the foreseeable future. First Nations wanting to invest in a project cite these facts to gain support for a program they believe will help Natives ween ourselves off government funding, which is the goal of chiefs who spoke at the Indigenous Energy Summit urging detractors to come on board.

Tamarack Valley Energy CEO Brian Schmidt says, “If First Nations were to invest in Trans Mountain and took a stake, it would send a strong signal across Canada that there is acceptance of that; that there is another side to the story.”

While “unity” was the message of many participants and speakers, Derek Wapass of the Thunderchild First Nation says media is using the split in Native opinion to help sell their news. Wapass, who is with the group Project Reconciliation, said “News that thrives on conflict and discontent, who’s to tell our truth? With this fractured and divided approach, is it possible that many great opportunities have been squandered to our detriment? Is it possible we ourselves are creating obstacles to those opportunities? Are we getting in our way?” asked Wapass. “I believe we’re at a tipping point, where we, as Indigenous people, have an incredible opportunity to create a new way of looking at the TMX pipeline. I believe it is time we had a louder voice; a collective voice in this pipeline’s impact.”

First Nations having a seat at the table ensures proper procedures will be followed to protect the environment during both construction and the maintenance after completion, leading to economic benefits for those willing to participate and invest, according to proponents. After consulting with financial advisors and leaders, Project Reconciliation’s financial model concluded participating presents a unique opportunity for First Nations to own anywhere from a majority up to 100 percent interest in the project. “I don’t look at it from a dollar perspective, I look at it as getting it right on the environment, getting it right on the marine, and getting it right as the stewards of the land and waters,” said Wapass.

Roy Fox, Blood Tribe Chief, spoke about his people’s investments in oil and renewable technologies, and said no harm has ever come to his people, animals, land, water or air. “We have ensured that exploration, production, and transmission activity is conducted on a sustainable and responsible manner on our reserve.”

Fox said investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline depends on Bills C69 and C48 failing in the senate, bills he is opposed to and described as “deal killers.” If the bills are defeated, he and the Blood Tribe would be seriously looking at the possibility of investing in the pipeline. “We’d do our due diligence, and if it’s a sure thing, then maybe,” said Fox.

Bill C69 replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012 with a new Impact Assessment Act, and replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency with a new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. The Act adds enhanced consultation with Indigenous groups that may be affected, and expands factors like traditional indigenous knowledge.

Bill 48 is the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act. It prohibits tankers from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations along BC’s north coast if they carry over 12,500 metric tons of crude or persistent oil. The moratorium extends from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border, and prohibits loading when the additional oil results in the tanker carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of those oils.

Defeat of Bills C69 and C48 does not guarantee a new project will move forward because Vivian Krause warned any entity buying the pipeline will meet opposition from a well-funded Anti-Oilsands campaign, which has a record of effectively stalling new projects and can stop pipeline expansion.


Revolution for Mother Earth

Alice Faith Keeper, Longhouse Mohawk with husband Lehman Gibson Longhouse Mohawk on their farm Ohsweken Grand River Country  photo by Danny Beaton 1988

Alice Faith Keeper, Longhouse Mohawk with husband Lehman Gibson Longhouse Mohawk on their farm Ohsweken Grand River Country  photo by Danny Beaton 1988


In Memory of Alicja Rozanska

Alice and Lehman Gibson would tell me “Danny go out and pick some fresh rhubarb and turn on the garden hose and clean them and eat them after you pull them out of Mother Earth. Then pick some strawberries and eat them out of Mother Earth; they are very healing and still alive.” NiaWeh for all the gifts that our plant life gives us humans to use and heal with, to fill our tummies, medicines, the three sisters, corn, bean and squash, which give us a good life here on this sacred Mother Earth. It is the gardens of the world that feed us with life-giving forces. Our elders teach us, when we are young, to eat plant life from the garden.  Alice said “Nothing is more healing than fresh strawberries right out of the garden, Danny; they are the first to ripen and so we use them in most ceremonies, social gatherings, feasts. They are the leader of the berries in our way of life, we even have strawberries on our traditional clothes and headdresses, shirts, dresses and sacred artwork. Go out in the garden and pick what you like and pick some berries to take home with you. You can wash them, if you like, or just take them off the plant.” The rhubarb was a new experience for me at Lehman and Alice’s farm because I had never really tasted rhubarb fresh from the earth and eating it raw without being cooked or without sugar was a new thing and realistically the only time I had tasted rhubarb was in freshly-baked rhubarb pie when I was a kid. Whenever I visited Six Nations and saw my elders, chiefs, clan mothers and people, they were always friendly on the reservation. The people were mostly always happy when I was young and I would bring my friends from Toronto with me to learn and feel the open space and see the beauty of the farmland and open space. It was magical with the Six Nations community, now people ask me if I am still going to Six.

The people of the cities and urban life, even suburban area, can find peace, healing creativity, community, even great healing there, but there is no healing like the rich forests, meadows, woodlands, old-growth forests or rainforests. The insects creeping, crawling and flying, together with frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes, are living as one with the ecosystems full of nutrients and medicines, which make up true Creation in its power and spirit. The mushrooms, flowers, berries, wetlands, swamps, Cattails, Oneyed Suzannes, Dandelions, meadows, are evidence of a vast life of species thriving, nurturing each other while we humans can only study what is transpiring in this world we live in. The sap runs from the big Maple and Birch trees and we make syrup for pancakes, but before we boil it, it is considered a powerful medicine for many illnesses. Here in Ontario, Canada, we have Carolina Forest, which is actually the biggest one remaining in Canada with the greatest biodiversity for wildlife: common trees are Shagbark and Black Walnut, both with edible nuts and these nuts are not just good for humans to eat, but also animals: birds eat too, even wild turkeys. Native people gather what our elders call “Repper Roots” and many more herbs for medicinal value. The forests here are home for our relatives, big and small, but now forests are not just a home but a Refuge in Ontario for many creatures, such as the Painted Turtle and Snapping Turtle, which are an endangered species and at risk of disappearing forever. Scientists say we are losing between two hundred and two thousand species each year in the world. Some scientists say the number of species dying is a lot more already. The Eastern Cougar is gone forever, also the japanese Otter, Black Rhinoceros, Pinta Tortoise, Clouded Leopard, Newfoundland and Cascade Wolves, Passenger Pigeon and Labrador Duck, to name a few all directly or indirectly affected by Global Warming.

As native people we have to ask ourselves if there is anything we can do that will stop the destruction of Mother Earth, how we can slow down the forest industry, mining industry, fishing industry, urban sprawl and the oil industry, which includes fracking. When I attended our first elders and youth gatherings in Onondaga, New York, around nineteen ninety, our leaders were crying because our women said our men were not doing enough to protect Mother Earth’s Blood, the water! There were a lot of tears from our grandmothers and women. That had a huge effect on me; from that day on and every ceremony I ever attended with The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth based in Bozeman, Montana, the spirit of the people always energized our people, the ceremonies were powerful and healing for us all. Back then Bob Staffansan and Eric Noyes were our executives for American Indian Institute and for our council of grassroots spiritual leaders of North America. The Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth is a part of the American Indian Institute and as far as I remember there is a website with the Communiqués or sacred messages sent out from our spiritual leaders and youth, including our mandate.

Almost thirty years ago our elders spoke of the devastations that were happening in their respected communities; alcohol, addictions, drug use, aids, diabetes, environmental issues from pollution to mercury poisoning, then our kids joining gang culture. Back then there was more hope than there is  today, even with everything that was going on. Even as I write this story I think how I can truly wish someone Happy New Year, when it is not a happy situation or new year for Mother Earth or Creation. Our way of life tells us we are supposed to be happy, but realistically it is not a positive time in the history of the earth for anyone. Our elders and youth involved in sacred ceremonies through traditionally native culture and those defending Mother Earth have hope of being human beings again, even when things look bad and hopeless. In the past few years there has been a great resurgence of native culture and pride by standing up for Mother Earth with new protests, called “Idle No More! and “Occupy Now!” Mother Earth can see and hear every ceremony we give, our old elders teach us. Creation can feel every prayer and song and action we take for respect, for life! With the recent protests across Canada and the world for the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia and the Gidimt’en Clan, support is pouring in for the Indigenous people there, holding anti pipeline camps for Mother Earth’s Protection.

Because there is such a growing consciousness for Mother Earth/Environmental Protection, maybe it is time to start an Indigenous Party of Canada in contrast to the Green Party or NDP social political movements. Maybe Canada is ready for change, maybe Canada wants to start a revolution to bring about change for the planet. There certainly is enough spirit power and Good Minds here to begin. The recent voice of women across Canada can be heard through three of the strongest intelligence and Traditional Indigenous Culturalists: Ellen Gabriel Mohawk teaching at McGill University, Tanya Talaga Anishinaabe (writer for Toronto Star author of Seven Fallen Feathers) and Pamela Palmater (Chair of  Indigenous Studies at Ryerson University). With the backing of natives and non-native people maybe the people can begin to heal themselves and Mother Earth! I have seen the new documentary film Anthropocene (2018) by photographer Edward Burtynsky and I consider it a blueprint for environmental education and protection. Anthropocene was filmed all over the world, showcasing the world’s largest mines and mining corporations devastating the planet and ecosystems, including climate change and the oceans of the world dying out. The spirit of Mother Earth is everywhere in Ed Burtynsky’s new film, from the animals being eradicated to the beauty of people finally standing guard to protect them in protected areas of the wild. The film documents the forests of British Columbia being clear cut throughout coastal mountain paradise. This is a film that shows rape, pillage, genocide and voices of a bankrupt society lost in a fantasy of greed, which needs a healing consciousness to restore balance in the world. We humans need to look at what we are losing at this fast pace, as this generation is a society out of control. “There is a need to start a revolution, because if there is one iota of a chance for restoration for Mother Earth we need it.”

Danny Beaton and Lehman Gibson both Mohawk, Six Nations Grand River Country photo by Alice Gibson 1988

Danny Beaton and Lehman Gibson both Mohawk, Six Nations Grand River Country photo by Alice Gibson 1988

It’s Time to Add to Our Story

David Newhouse. Photo by George Horton

David Newhouse. Photo by George Horton


I teach a first-year class in Indigenous Studies at Trent University and have done so since 1999. We tell the story of what I call the Long Assault: the more than a century assault on Indigenous lands, territories, languages, cultures and knowledge. It is a remarkable story to tell, and there is now a tremendous volume of material that can be used to illustrate how it worked and show its continuing impact on our lives. It’s an essential and challenging story for students to learn. It helps them to understand what happened and why. The new generation of students, popularly called Gen Z, don’t just want facts presented to them, they want to know why things are the way they are. They are motivated by social justice, a desire for equality and fairness. Many want their education to go beyond the classroom and to present them with knowledge and tools that can help them to make a real difference.

Local Elders have told us that you cannot build upon weakness, you have to build upon strength, that we should choose ways to lift our students.  Over the last decade, I’ve added to the story and teach the students about what I call The Great Healing. This story tells of the journey over the previous half-century to restore sovereignty, reclaim lands, waters and territories as well as the development of our communities and nations. It’s also a story of cultural revitalization through the arts and a renewed spirituality. We recognize that enormous challenges are facing us (increasing access to safe drinking water, improving levels of education and incomes, improving overall health, tackling mental health and high rates of suicides, challenging racism and prejudice, etc.) and we discuss how we are addressing these challenges.

We point out that we have committed and educated leaders, men and women who are well schooled in both western and Indigenous knowledge. Our leaders are politicians, educators, social workers, health care workers, business owners, lawyers, scientists, public intellectuals, Elders and spiritual leaders. We turn to Indspire as a place where Indigenous achievement is recognized and acknowledged. Many Indigenous community leaders have been recognized by their communities and Canada and the provinces for their outstanding contributions to their communities.

We tell stories of determination, persistence, creativity, innovation and leadership. Using the medicine circle, we also tell stories through time:  of the past, the present and a new future. Telling this story is hard as it is overwhelmed by the story of the Long Assault and its impact. Adding the Great Healing to our narrative uplifts our communities, our leaders and our students. It also provides a foundation for concrete action for gen z students so that they can build on their strengths.